Artistry, delight and the ‘working drawings’

The Coalbrookdale Company relied on a team of skilled draughtsmen to produce special drawings called technical drawings. These drawings were used to make, display, and record the Company’s products.

The Company’s order archive is striking for the use of expressive techniques, namely shading and watercolour. These feature in ‘working drawings’, a type of technical drawing with practical details such as measurements, corrections, and annotations.

The use of expressive techniques likely reflects a draughtsman’s agency more than a Coalbrookdale Drawing Office rule. Draughtsmen at Coalbrookdale followed customs of technical drawing, but otherwise pursued or could pursue personal judgements, energies, desires, and a delight in artistry. 

Stable Fittings, pencil and watercolour on tracing paper, Coalbrookdale Company, 1908. For the client Henry Drew, builder, Ross-on-Wye. [2022.16/G8]



 Squeezed between two larger two-dimensional drawings, diligent attention has gone into enhancing the realism of the small three-dimensional sketch showing how the cast-iron railing parts fit together. The use of hatched shading is pure decoration. The technique is also applied to the rail and standard heads in the large drawings. 

The effect of light and shade on the cast-iron pillars and railings has been skilfully created with pencil and watercolour. It serves no practical purpose, and the quality is rare. The client could have demanded the quality shading, but this is unlikely considering the specificity and that Coalbrookdale retained the drawing, sending the client a blueprint (copy).




Railing Standards and Bars, pencil on tracing paper, Coalbrookdale Company, 1903-1904. For the client G. H. and A. Bywaters and Sons, builders, London. [2022.16/H29]

Porch, pen, ink and watercolour on tracing paper, Coalbrookdale Company, 1907. For the client Thomas & Co., contractors, Cardiff. [2022.16/C26]

The glass roof has a very light blue watercolour wash in two of the three drawings, producing the effect of sky reflection. This colouring is not repeated in a drawing of a second design of porch. Where applied, it suggests interest from the draughtsman with visual composition (i.e., continuing colour for consistency) and/or a fleeting, momentary impulse to produce the subtle effect.  

This drawing was sent to Coalbrookdale’s London Showroom at Rathbone Place for inspection either by the client or showroom staff. It is highly annotated with corrections and measurements in pencil. A draughtsman has spent considerable effort and creative energy in colouring the drawing in yellow and several shades of green. The effect is unusual in the archive.


Hand Gate and Pilaster, pencil and watercolour on card, Coalbrookdale Company, 1907. For the client J. Barker & Co Ltd., London. [2022.16/R34]